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How to Blacken Chicken

How to Blacken Chicken

Savory Spice co-founder Mike Johnston reflects on a classic seasoning and writing down some of the recipes and seasonings that built Savory.

Revisiting a Classic

Time sure flies. Our little company has grown far beyond our wildest dreams. When you sprout up as quickly as we have, it feels like you are constantly moving from one plate to another, then another, and still another just to keep them all spinning. All so you can grow a little more and have more plates to spin! 

To be honest, more is not what drives me. Creativity is what drives me. And it’s pretty dang hard to be creative when all those plates need spinning.

Back in 2011, when we expanded our offices and warehouse from 6,000 square feet to 14,000 square feet, I carved out about 300 square feet for my own little test kitchen. In my mind, I was going to be in there daily working to create recipes for our products and then more new products…which, of course, would need more recipes. It was a perfect plan, my dream job and my reprieve. Well that plan did what most plans do… it went awry.

What the heck does this have to do with blackening chicken? Well, pretty much nothing but it might help to explain how our Cajun Blackening (a seasoning we sell a decent amount of, one that has been in our product lineup from the first day we opened, and which we have a salt-free version of) didn’t have a single Savory recipe associated with it!

That’s a wee bit embarrassing, but I’ll own this one. As we grow our product line, at least some of the products we develop are influenced by my current culinary interests. The first few years we were opened I was all about curries. The last few years I’ve been chasing (eating) the heck out of barbecue. So, Cajun cooking just wasn’t on my radar, but it is now. So why bother learning about blackening chicken from me?

Lately I’ve been a blackening fool. I’ve blackened chicken thighs, breasts, and even gizzards. Seafood hasn't escaped my cast iron pan (looking at you catfish, shrimp, and salmon) nor has good, ol’ American steak!

Here is the first bit of blackening info you need: you really do need a good-sized, cast iron pan to do it right. Yes, you can use a heavy bottom pan if you don’t have one, but there’s something about cast iron and blackening that is just so right.

The next thing you’re going to need is good ventilation or an exhaust fan; blackening is done mostly over high heat, so your cast iron pan (and your kitchen) is about to get very hot and smoky.

Okay, so you’re ready to go. Set that pan down for a second and remove your chicken (or fish or steak) from the fridge, so it can get closer to room temp (you’ll soon find out that there’s a good reason for this).

Alright, now grab the cast iron pan and place it on your burner (you’ll want to use the burner that produces the highest heat) and turn it on full blast. Make sure you have a hot pad or potholder between that pan handle and your hand anytime you’re near it, because you want to let that pan get really, really hot. Screaming hot! It takes about 8 full minutes to get the pan preheated as hot as you’ll need it.

Meanwhile, you can get everything else prepped. Here are the full prep directions for the ultimate blackened chicken. (Adjust as needed for other proteins, depending on the thickness!) If you’re blackening thin cutlets or pounded (tenderized) pieces of meat, go ahead and skip the first step and last step of the directions because your meat will cook fully over the burner. Remember, you’ll still want to check for doneness before removing them from the pan. 

Step by Step Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Melt butter in a microwave-safe, flattish type of dish (you’ll need a bowl flat enough to coat the chicken).

3. Coat the (now almost room temp) chicken in the melted butter, turning to coat on all sides, and place on a plate when coated. If you try doing this with cold chicken straight from the refrigerator, the melted butter will coagulate and make the seasoning process a clumpy, sticky mess.

4. Next, give the top side of the chicken a generous coating of Cajun Blackening. Many of the recipes I read while researching blackening seasoned the chicken on both sides before placing it in the pan, but I found that when I turned it over to season the other side too much of the spice was falling off on the plate. I got better results when I placed the seasoned side down directly into the hot pan and then carefully seasoned the top side, keeping my hand well above the pan to avoid any hot butter splatters. Do that next.

Okay, you’re off and blackening!

A little note: blackening isn’t about burning the chicken surface to a crisp, but rather about creating a charred crust of spices. As the butter heats up it will “glue” the spice crust to the chicken and help keep it moist inside—even though you’re cooking it over a very high heat.

5. Let it cook, undisturbed for about two minutes. Then, using tongs, lift a corner of the chicken to check for blackening doneness. If you like what you see, go ahead and carefully flip it over. Try to avoid ‘ungluing’ any of the charred spice crust. Then start blackening the other side.

6. After a couple more minutes take another peek. If you’re happy with the blackening, go ahead and get ready for the last step. If you’re blackening a bunch of chicken, just keep repeating the process, setting each blackened piece on a plate to await the last step.

7. The last step is easy (if you set any chicken to the side , now is the time to put it all back into the pan); pop the pan with the blackened chicken into the oven for 8-10 minutes or until cooked to an internal temp of 165 degrees.

8. Remove and set aside to rest for 5 minutes.

9. Chow down on some good ol’ American, tasty charred goodness!

Just to “dot all my i’s and cross all my t’s,” the Savory test kitchen has been in the extremely capable hands of Suzanne Klein, who I love working with. And, yes, there are still plenty of plates that require spinning. In fact, I’m spinning a few right now as I type this (look mom no hands!), but I’m lucky to have an incredibly hardworking staff who are so much better at spinning those “corporatey” plates; because of them I’m finding more and more spots to keep the creativity flowing. So, look out for new and exciting things coming your way soon!


Recipe: Blackened Chicken

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thighs, or cutlets
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 2-3 tbsp Cajun Blackening

Directions

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Heat a cast iron pan or heavy bottom pan over high heat until it starts to smoke, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a shallow bowl in the microwave. Dredge chicken pieces through the melted butter and place on a plate. Liberally season the top of each chicken piece. Place two pieces, seasoning side down, into the hot pan and cook for 1.5-2 minutes. While the bottom is blackening, liberally season the top of each piece. When bottom is blackened, gently flip each piece and blacken the other side. Once both sides are blackened, remove from the pan and set aside. Repeat with the remaining pieces of chicken. After all pieces are blackened, place all pieces back into the cast iron pan. Place the pan on the middle rack in the oven and cook for 8-10 minutes or until the chicken reaches an internal temp of 165 degrees. Remove and set aside to rest for 5 minutes. Enjoy!

Blackening Tips

  • For my vegan friends out there: If you want to blacken tofu or seitan, you can use a butter substitute (like margarine) and get nice results.
  • If you knock off a little bit of the charred spice crust or don’t feel it’s quite blackened enough, after you flip it in the pan you can sprinkle a little more spice in the area and flip it back over. Cook for about 30-45 second to “patch it up”. I suggest doing this after the other side is properly blackened.
  • Almost all of the recipes I researched instructed the reader to place another pat of butter on top of the chicken after it is in the hot pan. I found this to be an unnecessary step because the results were the same with a single dredge through the melted butter. You’ll also save about 35 calories per piece by not adding the additional butter.
  • Salmon can often be thick in one area and very thin in another. For the best blackened salmon, do your best to cut it into pieces of equal thickness. When blackening salmon, I found that it took longer to finish in the oven then chicken, particularly if it was an inch thick or more. At 275 degrees, I needed about 15 minutes for it to cook through. Consider raising the oven temp or increasing the cooking time, but monitor it closely.
  • Steaks are fantastic blackened! I blackened 1” thick New York strip steaks and needed 13-15 minutes at 275 degrees to cook them to medium rare. Consider raising the oven temp or increasing the cooking time to get to your desired doneness, but monitor it closely.
  • Catfish was by far our favorite seafood to blacken. All it needed to cook through was the time it took to blacken it over the burner (no oven cooking required on this one!) and our pieces were about ¾” thick.
  • Shrimp worked well too. They will completely cook during the blackening (no oven cooking needed) but I turned the heat down to medium just before placing them in the pan; that was perfect for a 90 second blackening on each side.
  • Blackening can be done successfully with just about any fine, granular seasoning. I wouldn't recommend using a sugar-based seasoning because it will char instead of blackening nicely.

Have a tasty recipe using Savory spices? We’d love to hear about it!

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